Who is the Queen of Pop? It’s the great debate of our time, or at least of last week after Lizzo summoned the ire of Madonna fans around the world when she bestowed the label on one Miss Janet Jackson. When I saw her tweet I didn’t gawk and maybe that’s because I have a higher level of respect for Ms. Jackson than most. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shading Madonna but I think it’s fair to say that anti-Black racism at the time and specifically misogynoir not only in the music business but especially in the very white lane of pop music almost certainly held Janet Jackson’s career from reaching its full potential. And her career is already to most people the pinnacle of what popstars can achieve! Any Queen of Pop conversation is one Janet deserves to be part of.
In case you forgot the work Janet Damita Jo Jackson put in this game, she’s celebrating the 40th anniversary of her self-titled debut album next year, with a four hour documentary event titled Janet, spanning two nights in January. “This is my story told by me. Not through someone else’s eyes,” Janet says in the first teaser clip featuring interviews with Mariah Carey, Missy Elliott, Paula Abdul, her brother Tito, and others. This project is said to have been in the works for the last five years, featuring never-before-seen home videos and archival footage. According to A&E and Lifetime, who will air the project, it will cover her father’s death, the infamous Super Bowl Halftime performance, the death of the King of Pop and her controversial brother, Michael Jackson, and becoming a mother later in life.
The teaser is punctuated by lyrics to her 1986 hit, “Control”: “When I was 17, I did what people told me / I did what my father said / And let my mother mold me / But that was long ago.” I wonder if she’s trying to apply those famous lines to more than just when she was 17. When she was 38 she did what CBS forced her to do and took all the blame for the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction. When she was 52 she was in what some people close to her have described as an abusive relationship. Are these moments in her life she’s ready to say “that was long ago…” and tell us what really happened — what she would have done if she wasn’t doing what people told her? The teaser leaves us on the lyric “I wanna be the one in control”.
Where will Janet fall in the plethora of music docs that have flooded our platforms in recent years. Notably Framing Britney Spears reframed our perception of Britney Spears quite dramatically in just 75 minutes. Are there certain moments of Janet’s life that she wants to reframe in the public consciousness? Does she still feel like the Super Bowl is a stain on her career? It’s not even in the first ten things that come to mind when I think of Janet, but I was young when that happened and I’m probably more liberal in my #freethenipple stance than most people (why are we so weird about women’s nipples?). And what kind of impact and response would this topic in the doc have on Justin Timberlake, the silent accomplice in the Super Bowl fiasco? When he received blowback for basically being outed as the bad guy (even though the evidence was in front of our eyes the whole time) in the Britney Spears doc, he apologized to Britney and preemptively rolled an apology to Janet into the same post. He thought two birds, one stone was a good rule of thumb for meaningful apologies, I guess? Well, Lizzo thinks Janet is the Queen of Pop, but she also crowned Justin Bieber the Prince of Pop and I don’t remember anyone on Twitter arguing on behalf of Mr. Timberlake for the title.